My right to cleavage

A lot of my older posts are actually re-posts from a very old blog, so I’d like to take a moment to highlight an important one: this debate on what I call sexist feminism.

Please take a moment to read it, because I think it’s an important issue to discuss now, even years after I initially posted it. If I learned anything from the 2008 election it was that, while I spent my life thinking America was more racist than sexist, it is actually the other way around. Racism is alive and well, but it is much easier to talk to people about racism than it is to talk to them about gender bias.

The comments below the original post were lost in reposting, so I will post those here today. The responses I got say a lot about the attitudes people still have, including the very common view that women who want to be successful must do everything they can to de-feminize and de-sexualize themselves in the workplace. I do not agree. In fact, I have been known to proudly wear shirts showing a bit of cleavage and extremely high heels to the office. I do get some attention, both male and female, and I am doing fine because my work speaks for itself.

Anyway, if this topic interests you, please read on ahead.

The first response was from a woman who agreed with me:

Amy
January 10, 2008 at 6:11 am

Love your response. My thoughts exactly. Its a little bizarre as I went through an actual experience similar to this article at work – my female boss advised the men in the office were talking about me a little too much and thought I should cover up, and actually said “Maybe you should wear a birka”. I then was reprimanded because my tattoo showed when I bent over to put some paper in the printer. Who was looking at my lower back when I was bent over, anyway? Then I was asked to consider changing my hair color, because I am a blonde and “no-one will take you seriously when you walk into a boardroom.” I talked to my boss about it first and advised I didn’t think her comments were appropriate, she asked me to keep it under the carpet. I then talked to HR Director, meanwhile the company went through 3 of them during the 3 months of my complaint investigation. My boss denied saying anything, they paid me off, and I quit. End of story for that one.

My response:

January 10, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Wow! The only thing worse than hearing how horribly a company can handle such a complaint is to hear that it all started from a woman. That’s what makes me angriest of all, I think. I think it’s awesome you confronted her about it. When she asked you not to say anything did she apologize or acknowledge it?

The second was from a woman who didn’t, and had quite a lot to say about it:

Michelle
January 23, 2008 at 1:02 am

I have to agree with the older woman on this. I’m not saying that wearing cleavage shirts shouldn’t exist but I do understand how it is disruptive. I mean – I don’t have cleavage – so it’s not an issue for me, but what if I showed up to the office wearing butt cleavage skirts or pants? I know it sounds silly BUT many of the women wearing chest cleavage shirts would be offended by my butt cleavage (probably even call me a skank or a slut) and I think it would be just as disruptive. Why is it disruptive? because when women wear things like that – the caddiness comes out – other women who think its trashy will start whispering, the men will start staring and instead of being focused on the important issues – people are focusing on something that shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter but it seriously does. I draw my own opinions about people who feel like they need to show off everything to the world – I admire modesty and that’s just who I am. Not that I judge people who feel they need to show it off, I just don’t think it’s necessary and I fail to see why some think it is.

I think that it’s important to have dress codes in the work place and I don’t think it’s wrong for a company to ask people to dress certain ways… I mean – I’ve worked jobs where I was forced to wear stupid hats, or ugly smocks and I never complained. Asking a woman to not have half of her boobs hanging out, especially in a place where men are forced to wear ties, is not rediculous in my opinion. I mean – do you see the men in your work place wearing their shirts half unbuttoned so all the women in the place can get a peak?! If the company were allowing men to do this, and then waving an angry finger at a female for doing this – It would anger me very much. THAT would be clearly wrong. And really – it isn’t fair for women who don’t have cleavage – I can’t go to work and show off the parts of my body I’m proud of, I’m not permitted to show off my six pack or my cute little bum – if I did, I would get fired. So why do women with boobs feel like they should be given more freedom than someone like me or a man in the work place? Besides – if you have a nice set – people are going to notice them whether they are falling out of your shirt or not. (I do think that if nudity were made illegal, none of this would matter).

I think the bigger question is WHY do women feel like they HAVE to wear cleavage shirts to the work place? What do they gain from it? Why do they feel as though their freedoms are taken from them when someone asks them politely not to wear them? It is just clothing and i”m sorry, there is a time and place for clothing like this – and that is the club or at a party, or over at a friends house, or at a restaurant… It’s not that these clothes shouldn’t exist – I just completely understand why it is disruptful for a work place. Women want equality but they expose themselves and reveal themselves as sex objects waaaay more than men do (I think people are brainwashed by TV and movies because if you compare the number of naked women to naked men – it’s really more about naked women). I think it would be different if more men wore more revealing clothing – in which case, this probably wouldn’t even be an issue BUT that isn’t the situation. I feel that some clothing is objectifying and actually harms the feminist movment – and by saying that, I’m not saying that I think such clothes should be illegal or that a females wish to show off her sexuality should be hindered – I just think women are lying to themselves when they think that those types of clothes aren’t harming how people see them. Unfortunately – people think if a woman wears those clothes – that she is trying to get attention from men. Whether or not that is true – that is often the conclusion and I somewhat agree with this idea (I can’t think of a better reason to wear such clothes, the “I do it for myself” argument is sad because you can’t look at yourself in the mirror all day at work and I think women are feeding off of others eyes more than anything – which is rather pathetic). I’m content and happy with myself and I don’t need to wear such things nor do I need guys looking at me.

I think the bigger problem is the root to why women feel the need to wear stuff like that. I’m sorry but as a biological feminist, I think it is disruptful and you know what? WHen I’m talking to a woman and her breasts are popping out of her shirt – I have a hard time looking at her face or hearing what she says and I’m not even attracted to women and I’m a woman! It’s just like “woah, damn girl” – that’s what comes into my mind. I can understand why that would be disruptive for men and for the woman who is trying to be heard as well as the other women in the office who don’t find showing off boobs necessary.

Her response embodied a lot that disturbs me to this day, so I had a lot to say back to her:

January 23, 2008 at 3:45 pm

First of all, we have to be sure we’re talking about the same thing here. I do NOT walk around with half my breasts exposed. But when I wear a scoop-neck shirt or a v-neck shirt, I cannot hide the fact that I have boobs and kick-ass cleavage. In fact, the same shirt that would be interpreted as “classy” or “respectful” on an A-cup would likely be objectionable on me, in which case it all boils down not to the clothing, but to my sexuality. It makes people feel uncomfortable.

You’re not the only one who thinks it’s wrong to become a distraction in the workplace. “Even if it’s wrong,” people say, “it’s a fact of life.” People will stare at your boobs. So because people are animals, it’s now MY responsibility to cater to them? If I were smart and self-serving, perhaps I’d follow your advice and wear unflattering turtle necks everyday (turtlenecks are ALWAYS unflattering on busty women); I might get a promotion sooner, and I certainly wouldn’t be gossiped about by my co-workers.

But I actually care about the betterment of society. I dream of a day where I can walk around with whatever skin color or body parts God blessed me with, and not be judged by my co-workers. I dream of a day where I can work in an environment where I am treated with every bit of respect I earn through my intelligence and ability. If people went about their lives trying best not to rock the boat, women would not be able to vote today. America wouldn’t exist.

And actually, even financial firms no longer require men to wear ties, and unless they were unbuttoned halfway to their belly buttons with chest hair busting out, I wouldn’t have any objection at all. If they WERE dressed that way, I would probably just laugh at what poor taste they had. Same goes for men OR women exposing butt cleavage. You’re comparing a fashionable scoop neck shirt that doesn’t hide cleavage to nasty crack exposure. I simply don’t see how the two can be part of the same discussion in this day and age (that’s not to say that in 20 years some genius designer will come up with a tasteful and fantastic way to expose butt cleavage and win me over).

My point is, you may not think it’s attractive for bustier women to highlight their assets. You think it’s unnecessary, and you are entitled to your opinion. But whether or not it’s necessary isn’t the question–the question is, is it your place to impress your personal tastes on me? And why do you and the woman from the article–as feminists–promote the idea of having women try to look more like MEN in order to succeed? Is that the right way to educate our daughters? That women as they are simply are not worthy of influence, money and power, and in order to be worthy they have to play DOWN their femininity?

You sound like you’re proud of your own assets–your butt. So if you wear a skirt or a pair of pants that accentuate how great it is, more power to you. It should never hinder your ability to climb the ladder, nor should my cleavage hinder (or help) mine.

As “feminists” (of all denominations, though I loathe to categorize myself), we should work as hard as we can to achieve a workplace where we can compete head to head solely based on our competence–you know, that thing that we were hired for in the first place. Anything less would be selling women out around the world.

January 23, 2008 at 4:01 pm

PS: I find it really disturbing that women are so vehemently against other women who draw attention to themselves. I’m sorry, but why are we prizing a wallflower mentality here? Even if I didn’t have big boobs … let’s say red looks fantastic on me and I wear it as much as I can, drawing attention from all the men and women at my workplace. Even without cleavage, that would likely envoke cattiness as well. Truth is, any beautiful woman anywhere will likely draw haters out from their cubicles.

I say, let them hate. When they work under me, they can talk all the sh*t they want; they’ll still be my underlings, they’ll still be kissing my ass, and they’ll still subconsciously wish they had my boobs. Sure–If I were using my boobs to get ahead, that might hinder the feminist movement. But I’m not. In fact, just by being in the position I’m in now, I’m HELPING the feminist movement. And when I get an even better position, I will bettering the world for women everywhere. Especially when I wear a flattering top to my promotion party–because the more I do that, the more acceptable it will be for my successors to get the careers they deserve while staying true to themselves.

Meanwhile, if feminists insist on hindering MY success because I’m a proud woman, then they need to step the f*ck off.

January 23, 2008 at 4:10 pm

PS2: Oh, and why is it ok for all the women to gossip about the hot managing director by their water cooler, while any WOMAN who is labeled the office hottie is automatically a distraction? If he wears a tailored suit that shows off his wonderful ass, he’s admired by his male colleagues and fawned over by his female colleagues. No one questions his professionalism or intelligence.

If SHE wears a shirt that shows off her boobs (or pants that show off her ass, even) she’s a slut. A distraction. Using her sexuality. How anyone–especially any feminist–can willingly perpetuate such a double standard is beyond me.

[[NOTE: We have to compare apples to apples. Butt cleavage on men does not equal cleavage shirts on women. We’re comparing ways in which each gender accentuates the features that make them more attractive to the admiring (notice: did not say opposite) sex. For men, that could be pants that are tighter around their asses, or shirts that show off the muscle tone in their arms.]]

January 23, 2008 at 7:38 pm

And another thing: if more successful women dressed this way, it would cease to be a novelty and people would get past it, rather than going on a witch-hunt for the office bombshell who’s allegedly flaunting her sexuality.

I must say; in terms of office do’s and don’ts, I think flip flops and cargo pants are much more offensive. Dressing sloppily means you don’t care. Dressing flatteringly means you prize yourself and the way you look.

As far as positive attributes in the office go, a woman with confidence and who is comfortable with herself is a great asset. Combine that with strong core skills, good work ethic and natural people skills, and you have a winner. Perhaps your next CEO, even–or, sorry … is that too much for the boys to handle?

Then another woman responded anonymously, with quite a bone to pick with anyone who judges by appearance (this one wandered onto the wrong blog, as I am clearly a person who cares very much about appearance):

February 21, 2008 at 7:04 am

hehe… Actually – women don’t have to dress masculine to not show off half their bodies and pants aren’t masculine – neither are shirts with modest neck-lines. I guess I have no idea how free you were at work when you said a little cleavage. I mean, I don’t know. I figured you were talking about a club shirt or something. Because around here – a little cleavage means half your chest… I guess that’s just a slight cultural difference.
I’m just really tired of being descriminated against for being a masculine girl. I constantly am judged, not just by other women but by other men because I dont’ like skirts and I don’t like caking toxic chemicals on my face. Women have unfairly labeled me as a lesbian, just because more lesbians happen to be masculine. I can’t think of anything worse than having other people tell you that your skin would be prettier all covered up.
If more professional women dressed as such?! Hello! Have you looked around AT ALL? Every professional woman I see on TV around town is dressed with cleavage shirts and skirts and guess what? All that does is create this pressure for women in thinking that they need to dress in these so-called “feminine” clothings.
It’s not my taste that I’m trying to push on you. I just think women are overly obsessed with their appearences and I think it is because they are BRAINWASHED by television and media. The only reason women HAVE TO HAVE their cleavage shirts is because every other girl on TV wears them (I’m talking about club type shirts – not modest v-necks).
BTW this is coming from someone who vigorously wishes nudity to be legal. I think THAT will be the day when people stop being obsessed with their bodies – in many places in Africa the women think Americans are insane because they think of boobs as sex objects – they really think it’s weird and so don’t the men and it’s because they go around topless all the time. Not more cleavage shirts – more cleavage shirts will just make more woman obsessed with wearing them. That is great for the women who like those things but what about the women who don’t and are unfairly stereotyped as “masculine” precisely based on the clothing they wear? I realize women are unfairly stereotyped in both directions BUT I think cleavage shirts/make-up etc are a lot more accepted. I don’t know, I have lots of female friends/family etc that wear those shirts and people don’t call them sluts or anything… But I’m constantly being dogged on for wanting to be a biological feminist and for admiring modesty and wishing not to wear a mask every single day.

I think it is SAD that you think that if women wear pants and t-shirts they are being masculine. See what is going on here? Do you get it? I just don’t think clothing can define masculinity or femininity. It’s only a mirage created by advertising and industry. A woman is still a woman in pants. A man is still a man in a skirt.

“We’re comparing ways in which each gender accentuates the features that make them more attractive to the admiring (notice: did not say opposite) sex.”
Shouldn’t it be about the brain? Shouldn’t it? SHouldn’t it? I’ve never been attracted to someone who I didn’t get to know first (this has a lot to do with me hating this idea that physical attraction is #1). I don’t feel as though I need to accentuate any of my assets other than my brain and I think more women should take this stance and maybe you have and maybe it was a little cleavage that your boss got annoyed with BUT most women don’t stop at a little and I’m sorry for that assumption. Also – tight pants are more like a tight shirt (a tight shirt will still show off your beautiful boobs, the only difference is the skin). My pants aren’t showing off any skin but cleavage shirts do and that’s the difference and I can understand a little modesty in the work place (from all sides).

You only think that flip flops and cargo pants are sloppy because you have been brainwashed to think that (that view is similar to people thinking cleavage shirts are what hookers wear)… can’t you see that? I mean, who decides what is sloppy and what isn’t? WHO DECIDES – you? Is a woman dressed in a regular tuxedo masculine? Does she look sloppy? (I agree that flip flops and cargos are probably not appropriate for certain jobs).

I’ve noticed that most women who are obsessed with their appearence are not secure at all. What I see around me is a bunch of women who dress the same, wear the same caked on make-up and then a bunch of excuses to justify that behavior, when they can’t just admit that they only do it cuz everyone else is and that they are afraid to be different (which actually attracts like five times as much attention). I think I’m just really tired of watching people jump off of bridges after each other and whenever someone like me attacks the make-up industry or the clothing industry – I’m the jerk who is “imposing” myself on them. Well guess what? I’ve felt people imposing their ugly make-up (on animals as well) and so-called “feminine” clothing (that men mostly design) and big boobs with a skinny frame as “beauty” ideals my entire life. I’m not telling women they shouldn’t strive for attention, I’m not saying they shouldn’t wear their cleavage shirts – all I want is for them to actually and REALLY think about WHY it is so damned important to them… Why is it even important? I just don’t think it is.
Also – I don’t think this is nearly as f’d up as the woman who was fired from her job of 20 years simply because she didn’t want to put toxic chemicals on her face. If you want to see how women are descriminated in the work place – this is one that every woman should be concerned about. I mean seriously – women being fired for not wanting to put poison on their skin is just plain wrong (men were not required to wear it).

Interestingly I felt her obsession with not wanting to be noticed for her appearance made it painfully obvious that she was, indeed obsessed with appearances, judging anyone who wore makeup or so-called conformist clothing:

February 21, 2008 at 2:04 pm

From your response, honestly it’s just apparent that you are more obsessed with your appearance than any of the women you accuse of putting cultural pressure on you. I think it’s horrible that people tell you you’re masculine because you wear t-shirts and pants, or try and define your sexuality based on the way you dress. But masculinity, femininity and sexual orientation are different topics all together. People keep mixing up the issue here. YES, the way people dress does have an affect on their immediate environment–but is that RIGHT? No. And just because the people around you are fuckwits doesn’t mean that YOUR way of dressing is better than MINE.

You feel pressured to dress like the women on television? Well you’re turning around and trying to apply the same pressure to me. Does that make it right? I don’t think so.

And this last one needs no introduction, it is clearly from a man:

Jersey

February 26, 2008 at 12:45 pm

If you don’t want men to look at you, don’t show off your body!! I mean, wearing something that shows some of your chest is one thing, but if the tops of your breasts are showing to the point a man can easily see down them…don’t go playing innocent, you want to flirt!!

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